Football: Kelly's hero the one shining light

Middlesbrough 0 Wimbledon 0 Attendance: 31,400
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The Independent Online
IT WAS hardly worth watching, and certainly not worth walking 184 miles to see. For eight days, Graham Kelly had tramped the highways and byways from his Peterborough home to the Riverside home of Middlesbrough Football Club. The reason, he explained upon his arrival before kick-off yesterday, was to pay homage to Boro's boy from Brazil.

In a radio interview, the former FA chief executive happened to remark that he would walk all the way to Teesside to watch Juninho if Middlesbrough managed to get him back from Madrid. He kept his word, though he cannot have been amused that Bryan Robson kept Juninho on the pitch for only 63 minutes. The Boro fans were certainly less than happy. "You don't know what you're doing," they chanted as the Middlesbrough manager withdrew the one player who had illuminated an otherwise dull display by his side.

It was perhaps expecting too much for the Riverside regulars to afford Kelly the welcome he deserved, not merely for his feat of endurance but for raising pounds 20,000 for good causes - MIND and the Manic Depression - in the process. Middlesbrough only had themselves to blame for failing to turn up at Blackburn three seasons ago but Kelly, as head of the FA, still took the blame on Teesside for the three points that were deducted and which cost Boro their Premiership status.

These days Middlesbrough are more secure in the top flight, though the 5-1 thrashing they suffered at Highbury the previous Saturday clearly left Bryan Robson and his boys glancing less than confidently over their shoulders from eighth place before kick-off yesterday. In a fitful first- half performance, they failed to galvanise as an attacking force and struggled to cope with Wimbledon's three-pronged strike-force. They could quite easily have been five goals behind by the break but Mark Schwarzer saved point-blank efforts from Marcus Gayle in the first and last minutes of the half and a trio of free headers - from Carl Cort, Robbie Earle and then Jason Euell - were either parried by Middlesbrough's goalkeeper or directed off-target. Boro were also rescued by a flagging linesman when the marginally offside Euell slid the ball into the home net three minutes before half-time.

Middlesbrough, though, were not just overstretched at the back. They were thin on the ground in midfield and up front too. What little creativity they managed to muster stemmed from the twinkling toes of the man Kelly had come such a long way to see. One jinking Juninho run through the middle was halted just short of the danger zone by Hermann Hreidarsson, while Neil Sullivan saved him team when the Brazilian split the Wimbledon defence with a sublimely measured through-ball to Hamilton Ricard.

Boro were not much better after the break. Juninho did forge another promising opening, rolling the ball to the unmarked Ricard ten yards from the Wimbledon goal. but the Colombian sliced his shot wide. There were loud cheers when Robson replaced Ricard with Alun Armstrong on the hour mark but deafening boos a minute later when Middlesbrough's other South American made way for Robbie Mustoe.

Paul Ince forced one last-ditch save from Sullivan late in the game. It was Middlesbrough's good fortune, though, that Wimbledon were bereft of a goalscoring touch, Cort blasting wide from all of three yards midway through the second half. The point was one more than Middlesbrough deserved and Kelly did not go home empty-handed either, departing with Juninho's shirt.